Switched On – Ralph Kinsella: Lessening (8D Industries)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

If you are a home producer you will immediately relate to the thoughts behind Ralph Kinsella’s debut album Lessening. Kinsella refers to ‘the poetics of the bedroom’, capturing the intimacy of our most private room for listening to and creating music.

The confined space is the stimulus for the ten tracks of Lessening, all recorded through lockdown in Kinsella’s Dumfries and Galloway. He talks of ‘the boondocks, interspersed with fragments of debris and flickering housing scheme street lights.’

What’s the music like?

Lessening is a set of ten tableaus with varying degrees of ambience and animation. Kinsella’s guitar is the main instrument, but he uses it sensitively among more ambient effects that often give a much bigger sound picture.

The subtly varied guitar sounds provide close up attention to detail or far off wisps of colour, and when the two elements come together, as they do in The Angel Of Raasay, the listener has the feeling of becoming airborne, especially with the ambient surrounds on headphones. That feeling is heightened on In The In-Between Light, where the music soars overhead on a bank of slowly changing effects, panning out to even wider vistas.

On the darker side the slow moving Suffuse has a similarly wide picture to go with its brooding harmonic backdrop, while the expansive Lung Noise, the album’s emotional centre, is similarly introspective but has a lovely mixture of cloudy keyboards to complement the bowed instrument in the foreground.

The layers of white noise laced around T(h)reads work as a comforting blanket, an explicit suggestion of shoegaze acts such as Slowdive, while Born On The Cusp works well with widescreen reverberation. Conversely the studied ambience of Gallows Hill has beautiful details for the ear to focus in on, with intricately picked guitar and woozy atmospherics working together.

Does it all work?

It does, because the structure of Lessening is ideal, giving the music a natural ebb and flow. Kinsella creates a winning mixture of blurred forms and much more studied portraits, portraying both the intimacy of the bedroom where the music will have been made but also the Dumfries and Galloway vistas outside.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. Any lovers of 1990s shoegaze will find much to dive into here, but so will those admiring more recent, post-classical efforts from the likes of Nils Frahm or A Winged Victory For The Sullen. It will be interesting to see what Kinsella turns his guitar to next, for his form of localized ambience creates memorable images of both time and place.

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